Email already hobbled one politician; could it prove to be the downfall of another? The writing might be on the wall for Scott Pruitt, longtime foe of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as its newest administrator. While serving as attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt regularly colluded with oil and gas producers and electric utilities with ties to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch to oppose federal environmental regulations, according to 7,500-plus pages of email that were made public on Wednesday. “The newly released emails reveal a close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry, with frequent meetings, calls, dinners and other events,” said Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy, which sued to obtain the documents.
Indeed, the correspondence portrays a rapport that isn’t just amicable, but downright cozy. Devon Energy, an oil and gas exploration firm based in Oklahoma City, for instance, drafted—and redrafted—letters for Pruitt to sign and send to federal officials in opposition of regulations designed to limit greenhouse-gas emissions and ozone pollution.
“Attached is a potential first-cut draft of a letter a (bipartisan if possible?) group of AGs might send to the acting EPA administrator and some others in the Administration in response to the NE states’ notice of intent to sue for more E&P emission regulation,” William Whitsitt, executive vice president for public affairs at Devon, wrote in 2013.
Months later, Clayton Eubanks, a deputy solicitor general, asked Whitsitt for advice on a draft the letter was preparing to send to the EPA regarding proposed regulations of methane emissions. “I would like to get the letter out in the morning,” Eubanks wrote. “Any suggestions?”
Whitsitt was quick to respond. “Here you go. Please note that you could use just the red changes, or both red and blue (the latter being some further improvements from one of our experts) or none,” he wrote back. Hope this helps.”
“I sent the letter today,” Eubanks emailed the next day. “Thanks for all your help on this.”
Communications reveal a similar fraternity between his office and Koch Brothers-funded conservative political groups such as Americans for Prosperity, which emailed the offices of Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman thanking them for helping “push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states.”
The emails’ release comes just days after Pruitt was promoted from EPA critic to EPA overseer. The road to his appointment was a rocky one, to say the least. Senate Democrats, environmental groups, and former and current members of the EPA staff launched a vociferous campaign against Pruitt, even calling for a delay on his confirmation vote until after the emails were made public. It was mostly for naught, however. Susan Collins from Maine was the sole Republican who voted against him, and Pruitt was confirmed by a 52-to-46 vote on Friday.
Making his first speech at EPA headquarters in Washington on Tuesday, Pruitt told employees that he was here to “listen, learn, and lead.”
Pruitt said the EPA needed to respect states’ roles in enforcing standards, and that “regulations ought to make things regular.”
He also insisted that there shouldn’t be a disconnect between environmental protection and energy production. Nor should regulations hamper job creation.
“We as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment,” Pruitt said. “That we don’t have to choose between the two. I think our nation has done better than any nation in the world at making sure we do the job of protecting our natural resources and protecting our environment while also respecting the economic growth and jobs our nation seeks to have.”
Pruitt’s words did little to smooth staffers’ hackles, however. “Pruitt’s talk [was] as bad as expected,” one anonymous employee told Mother Jones. “Not one word about public health. And talking about the rule of law as if we didn’t do everything with the realization that it will end up in court. It was condescending and hypocritical.”
Photos by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency